Today, Ryan D. and Drew are discussing Black Panther 6, originally released September 14th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan D: Maybe it’s an American thing, but culture and media have trained me to almost always root for the revolution. Revolution is often associated with the fiery passion of change, the usurpation of the dolorous and oppressive status-quo, backed by the free-thinkers and do-gooders. Or maybe it’s the idea being studied in psychology about peoples’ need to root for the underdog. This, however, has not exactly been the case in the current run of Black Panther. Or has it? Issue six takes us a bit deeper into the side of the revolutionaries and the monarchy, and bring some new variables into the mix.
T’Challa and his council discuss the mounting ideological threat posed by professor of politics and philosophy, Birnin Azzaria. Do not get me wrong, I think that these expository sections are necessary and crucial within this plot which features so many wheels within wheels; however, I enjoy newcomer writer Ta-Nehisi Coates mixing up his pacing in storytelling, or mixing up his system of delivering crucial information to the reader. Next, we see T’Challa’s War Dogs on the offensive — continuing the trend from last issue — against the Midnight Angels; however, this band of usurping women are not alone, as Tetu, who controls vines and mind-controller Zenzi of The People join the fray to turn the tide. Artist Chris Sprouse does a solid job with this sequence:
One must admit that the War Dogs look pretty badass. Objectively, they’re cool as hell. Sprouse also continues his sometimes masterful use of comic-craft and visual storytelling with something as simple as the panel of Aneka responding to the shots being fired superimposed within the larger panel of the source of the gunshots — a task which only really works through the magic that is comic books.
T’Challa finds himself desperate enough in this issue to conscript the help from others — first Tony Stark, replete with his trademark wit. This struck me as interesting, seeing as thus far in the comic, the creative team chose not to include any of the Black Panther’s superhero network as possible solutions to the crises presented during this arc. Tony here offers his unique perspective on one of the many antagonists in the series, Ezekiel Stane, who, unlike many of the other “baddies”, sports purely nefarious goals; all of the other malcontents to the throne do so for very believable, human reasons, often making it difficult to label them “bad guys”, no matter how much one is rooting for the Panther.
This brings me to my biggest concern about this run thus far: I have not cared much for T’Challa. The king of Wakanda often seems like the least dynamic character being offered here. Whereas all of the other characters in which he is in conflict possess deep political and social reasons for their fight, this Black Panther seems to be running purely on duty to his nation and pride in his bloodline. While these are, on paper, plenty to motivate a character, they are difficult things for me to relate to as a reader. I have also gotten the feeling that T’Challa moves mostly due to external motivating forces, in the sense that, had he come into reign during a time of peace, there really wouldn’t be much going on in the head of the character. Saying that, I very much enjoyed him being allowed back into the role of brilliant scientist and inquisitive mind in this issue.
Jonathan Hickman, for example, would constantly give readers a reminder of just how genius his Tony Stark and Reed Richards were during any given issue, and it seems to me just now that Coates affords T’Challa to play anything aside from the desperate, impulsive, and reactionary monarch we have seen as of late.
One other reason why I have been tentative about T’Challa can be explained by one of the side plots: Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and former Black Panther herself, receiving wisdom on an ethereal plane from the All-Mother. Coates dedicates about a fifth of this issue to the beautiful allegories found within the stories told by the Mother to Shuri, and while I do, of course, find the exploration of the cultural heritage of the nation as integral to the plot as the fisticuffs, these chapters give me a feeling that T’Challa will be relying upon a deus ex machina in the form of his sister’s return to resolve the issues now plaguing him instead of going upon that journey himself, depriving the audience of a full character arc for the titular character.
Drew! I didn’t have the space to talk about T’Challa defending the revolutionaries, or his getting captured leading to the reveal at the end of the issue! Did any of these things excite you, or catch you by surprise?
Drew: A lot in this series is catching me by surprise, but I’m not sure those are always pleasant surprises. I think your comparison to Hickman’s Avengers is apt — themes of the morality of leaders are still central — but it also illustrates how valuable experience in writing a monthly comic can be. Where Hickman could seed plotlines far in advance (arguably too far in advance), Coates is a bit more locked in to each issue. It gives the series a welcome episodic feel, but robs it of longer-term build-ups.
Take, for example, Doctor Doom’s nanites. This series has made references to Doctor Doom’s attack on Wakanda, but this is the first issue nanites have been mentioned. It also happens to be the issue where the presence of those nanites become important. A passing familiarity with Chekhov’s gun dictates that the nanites must be put to dramatic use at some point, but doing it so immediately after their introduced is a bit like introducing a gun only to have it immediately go off — it doesn’t release tension so much as confusion. As it is, the plotting reads a bit like when a kid botches a joke, adding that, by the way, the three men who walked into the bar were priests, just before delivering the punchline.
Perhaps more importantly, there’s not enough time to give the nanites any emotional weight. This isn’t just a convenient tool introduced immediately before it was needed; it’s a tool that has in important historical significance to this character. I can understand how repurposing a weapon once used against Wakanda could have emotional significance to T’Challa, but we don’t spend nearly enough time with his attitude towards these nanites for that repurposing to have any real meaning. As it is, those nanites could have been replaced by miniature cameras of T’Challa’s own design without altering the tenor of this issue at all. Maybe that means the gun actually hasn’t gone off yet, but as the next issue promises even more irons in the fire, I suspect the story of T’Challa coming to embrace the nanites that threatened his kingdom isn’t going to get much more attention any time soon.
I don’t want to mischaracterize this series; Coates clearly can play the long game, and has slowly built up the threat of The People over the entirety of the run thus far. But there continue to be these stumbling blocks where ideas are introduced and disappear far too quickly to leave any kind of impact, imploding before they ever have a chance to gestate. I can understand T’Challa’s decision to surreptitiously record Stane’s monologue as a consequent of the video of his counterrevolution meeting that went viral in issue 5, but I’m utterly baffled that we’re meant to put so much stock in T’Challa’s public relations. We have no perspective on Wakanda outside of the characters locked in battle — we don’t know any characters who might be swayed one way or the other by these videos, anyone whose opinions are suddenly so central to T’Challa’s battle for the soul of his country.
For me, that’s precisely the problem. Wakanda is fictional. Its technology and mythology are fictional. It’s impossible for us to imagine the day-to-day lives of its people because they live in a made up future-world and believe in a deity we’re only vaguely familiar with. What are their hopes? What are their fears? Do they generally feel oppressed by their King, or do they have faith in their system of government?
The only indicators we get are presented on a computer screen, which we all have to admit can grossly misrepresent the general opinion of the public. Do the calls for revolution come from a majority of Wakanda, or a tiny but vocal minority with a strong web presence?
Which maybe leads me to a bigger problem: T’Challa doesn’t know any regular people. I suspect we could relate to the average Wakandan just fine if we met them, but T’Challa only knows war councils and elite soldiers. As such, T’Challa doesn’t have the normal every-day problems that have always made Marvel’s heroes so relateable. I have struggled to tell crushes how I’ve felt about them, but I’ve never struggled to quell a revolution poised to unseat me as monarch. All of Marvel’s heroes are remarkable in some way, but they tend to be grounded by their supporting casts — or at least their relationships to one another. The Fantastic Four may all be remarkable, but their relationships are simple: friend, wife, brother. T’Challa has a mother and a sister, but they’re both sidelined right now. Storm’s presence in the next issue might add some much-needed emotional clarity — nothing cuts through the clutter like a rapport with an ex — but for this series’ long-term health, I have to hope Coates fleshes out a supporting cast soon.
I’m optimistic about this series going forward. I hope the pacing issues that seem to plague it will smooth out as Coates has more time to lay the groundwork, and I think the same could be true of the holes in the supporting cast. Writing a monthly comic is a daunting task, and I don’t envy Coates learning the ropes in the public eye.
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I also feel like there’s something of a wall between T’Challa and us. I felt it strongest when Tony Stark was on the page – his quippery really serves to other-ise the Wakandan cast’s use of extremely elevated language. It’s often very pretty, but I can’t say that any of the dialogue (or T’Challa’s voice over) ever sounds natural. That may get to what Drew was saying about being able to relate to characters like Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel better — they have problems we’ve had, and they also talk the way we talk. Anyone else get hung up on the language? Or is that just me being a dummy?
No, I think it’s fair to say that the characters here generally use an elevated language that doesn’t feel entirely natural. Here again, I think the comparison to Hickman is apt: his Avengers largely also used kind of unnaturally highfalutin language, which similarly kept them at an emotional distance from us. To me, the biggest difference is in how hooky Avengers was compared to this — Hickman didn’t deliver a lot immediately, but he sure as heck made it clear that whatever was coming was going to be pretty novel. I don’t have that same confidence here (though a pleasant surprise isn’t out of the question).
The problem with Coates’ T’challa is that he clearly has no idea how to write a genuinely smart character and brilliant (not merely “a good”) tactician. Because this has been the most mediocre and milquetoast T’challa I’ve seen in a while. He makes both Maberry and McGregor look like Christopher Priest. Or at least David Liss. None of those writers btw, gave better characterization to the supporting cast than, the titular character. Which Coates has done in this book, in addition to lowering the titular character/his home, in order to prop up his supporting/pet characters.
I’ll partially cut him some slack over his inability to do fight scenes; only because he’s admitted this weakness, but he REALLY needs to get it together soon. Because so far he’s been writing T’challa as “just another acrobat guy in a costume.” (Even Hudlin got his footing faster, and he was a novice as well.) I say that Coates needs to get it together fast, because BP is more than a ruler. He’s also one who is one of the best Hand-to-Hand Fighters on the planet, an inventor, and a brilliant tactician. But Coates’ has been writing him as a simpleton, and then trying to give excuses for it that wouldn’t even fool a child. I’m not sure whether it’s laziness, hubris, or he’s just having “that” hard a time in getting his comic book writing chops. But he needs to figure it out, and stop fawning over his verbal butt-pats on his Twitter feed/in his comic book shop discussions.
In addition to reminding readers JUST WHY they should be rooting for T’challa. Since…you know…it IS his book. Because he’s failed miserably to do that since issue #1, and continues to do so. All because he focuses on flowery prose/poetry and “telling vs. showing.”
This wouldn’t be as big a problem if this book wasn’t meant to introduce readers to the character, but Coates hasn’t really been characterizing BP that well. Unlike what Priest did, who hit the ground running in the first 3 issues (over a character that he didn’t even LIKE). Priest who established just who BP is, and “why” people should cheer for him. And he nailed it.
Unfortunately, Marvel just hired an “it” writer in Coates, and prayed that it would be enough. So far, it’s hasn’t really been. In terms of “sales” that’s inarguable. It has been, and I’m glad that BP is getting more exposure. But sales don’t always mean everything. Which is why no one thinks that McDonalds is a 5-star restaurant, despite it being a global franchise. It’s still terrible (mediocre at best) quality food. This book, is in a similar vein.
Though I agree that Coates’ Black Panther is disappointing, I think you are being very harsh. At the very least, this book isn’t McDonalds. Black Panther is very clearly that hot new experimental restaurant with lots of interest whose experiments never pan out.
The problem isn’t pet characters, nor a fact that T’Challa isn’t smart enough/a good enough fighter/a good enough tactician. Coates certainly doesn’t write Black Panther as a acrobat in a costume. This issue alone, he discusses the tactical advantage of understanding your enemy, shows scientific appreciation in another’s work and instigates a plan that combines advanced technology with a tactical understanding of his enemy. He loses a fight, but only because he threw the fight to further his plan – he has proven constantly to be a good fighter.
The problem is that while Ta-Nehisi Coates has some truly fantastic ideas, and is using his genius to explore those ideas, he is struggling with turning those ideas into narrative. The story beats are correct. The Characterisation is correct. Everything is correct. Just executed poorly.
I can honestly imagine a Black Panther movie adapting this arc and creating a masterpiece, by combining Coates’ fantastic ideas with a better understanding of narrative and characterisation
I’m sorry, but disagree with pretty much all of this. Especially that I’m being “harsh”. I’m just not interesting in pulling punches and coddling him with “slap on the wrist” versions of critiques over where he has notable problems. Especially when comparing T’challa from past writers. Who were more consistent in his characterization with past writers, than Coates. When it comes to serving as an introduction to new readers. Like the aforementioned Priest.
As I said, he has YET to demonstrate why anyone should root for T’challa. He’s just been a mopey dude in a costume, who is a ruler of an isolated kingdom that’s on the brink of anarchy. And with this weak buildup of T’Challa (unlike almost everyone else in the book), I highly doubt that Coates will finish as strong as he needs to, in order to undo the milquetoast BP he’s written so far.
Coates writes T’challa “understanding his enemy”, but in the beginning and up until now, he does the EXACT OPPOSITE multiple times. And ends up looking foolish. One of the best tacticians on in the planet. It’s like having Kitty Pryde repeatedly attempt to phase through a wall and not use her powers; then suddenly using them and thinking that “this is good writing”. I’m not even going to go in too deeply over how he’s nerfed T’challa to prop up his weak “Red-Shirt-Level” opposition/pet characters. Like when he gets manhandled and slammed by a regular muscular human, despite shrugging off blows from Hulk and Namor, and going toe-to-toe with God Doom in the past. Or when Tetu effortlessly traps him in vines. Despite T’challa having tech abilities that would shred them easily (from Hickman’s run). In addition to having superhuman strength.
Using Nanites was a bit unneeded, as Coates could have stopped trying to push his admiration of Doom on readers and delved more in to Shadow Physics. That field of science that T’challa instantly created in Doom War in a time of crisis. Which he used to stop him. Which hasn’t really been touched upon since. Coates could have gone with that, but instead he chose to be lazy.
I’m not saying that he has no problems. But any critique of Coates’ work that ignores the fact that Coates has been using this book to explore political structures and the nature of power is a poor critique. That’s why I compared it to a failed experimental restaurant instead of McDonalds.
Coates obviously isn’t being lazy. He has explored both the political structure of Wakanda, the recent history of Wakanda and built a story around the fact that recent events would naturally create the exact conditions required to break down the Wakanda and create rebellion. And his villains are designed to take advantage (and I’m not going to call characters like Zenzi Red Shirts. They are designed to be dangerous threats, so they should be depicted to be dangerous threats).
For all his flaws (and I have been very critical of Coates’ work in previous issues, even though I kind of liked this issue), I feel it is unfair to dismiss all the stuff Coates does well, even if that stuff is in the background and botched by his terrible execution. Coates is trying to explore interesting ideas that comics rarely touch, and he should be praised for that, even as he is damned for everything he does wrong (again, his execution is terrible). And he should also acknowledge that he is doing his best to write a T’Challa that makes plans and uses his tactical genius (like his plan this issue, or using Manifold to help is assaults, which is honestly a masterful piece of strategy if you understand the importance of logistics in warfare).
I won’t say too much about your criticisms about nerfing, because I’m not sure I agree. Different stories have different tones, and tone does change what the action looks like. That’s why Hawkeye can fight an army of Ultron drones in Avengers, yet still struggle against a bunch of Russians in his own series. He both series, he is the world’s greatest archer, but what that means is different in different stories. By that same reason, Coates’ political/war story is different from Hickman’s Cosmic Epic, and therefore the depiction of Black Panther is influenced by the type of story that he is in. Though I’m not sure what your complaint is about the nanites? Why wouldn’t T’Challa be the person who would take a great idea someone else had, and use it himself?
Still, my point is that there is a way to criticise Coates’ many flaws in his execution without ignoring the stuff he does well. We aren’t pulling punches when we combine discussions of his many flaws with discussions of, say, his fantastic idea of assaulting the misogyny inherent in the Dora Milaje through the rebellion of two queer women , or his idea that after Wakanda’s recent history of grievous hurt, it is natural that corruption would reign, and that people would rebel in a system that is both hopelessly corrupt and gives them no voice.
And I can praise those aspects while criticising the fact that T’Challa spends the first three or four issues basically doing nothing, or the fact that T’Challa’s inner monologue too often distracts from events, leaving the story to feel secondary to the philosophy. Or that fact Coates’ has spent far too much time setting up plot points, to the point where actual events of consequence are taking far too long. Or the many other problems I could discuss.
I’m not pulling punches, but I’m also acknowledging the strengths
(Since I can’t reply to your 9/22/2016 comment at 5:45 pm, this is it)
Well for starters, I’ve never ignored the theme of the book. As I never once talked about the general theme of it. Just remarked on what Coates has done in regards to T’Challa and Wakanda. So that wasn’t really an accurate means of framing my overall critique, on your part.
Your analogy with Hawkeye falls a bit flat as well, because Hawkeye isn’t a superhuman H2H fighter. T’challa is. No one is also dismissing what Coates has done well. It’s just that the bad severely outweighs the good, imo. Coates is only “damn if he does” if he tries to re-invent T’challa in a milquetoast manner that makes no sense. Which is what he has done.
And I’ve already explained why the use of Nanites was a bit questionable. Instead of just rehashing what belongs to another character, Coates could have thought outside the box for a change (because Wakandan rebellion/inner turmoil isn’t exactly original to the mythos), and came up with something unique to an aspect of BP that has remained virtually untouched since its creation. His use of Manifold wasn’t really “masterful”, that was a pretty standard level of strategy for BP. “Masterful” is when he outsmarted the god Mephisto (in Priests’s run) by using his ancestor’s spirits and ended up ripping out one of his hearts with his bare hands. To call anything that he’s done in Coates’ run so far “masterful” is akin to calling Spiderman wrapping his fists with webbing for extra punching impact “masterful”. It’s a huge reach to praise the “flatout mediocre” as being something greater than what it really is.
And the McDonald’s reference is far more apt, since Coate’s book is a high selling (but fantastically mediocre) product. Unlike a failed experimental restaurant, which would crash and burn early.
As for the Doras, their rebellion and the sudden misogyny that has motivated them to rebel is just a laughably hamfisted subplot. All because Coates in his warped sense of honor, has an overly simplistic and personal gripe against their role. So he manufactured the whole sexism angle to justify him doing away with their position. And I say manufactured because at no point have the Doras been treated and viewed with anything but respect by Wakandans. So he’s effectively re-writing the Wakandan mythos to fit his pet narrative.
As for the villains, they’re the least threatening villains I’ve ever seen in the BP mythos. They’re less threatening and more like a slightly irritating fungus. Because Stane has stepped up as the main antagonist. All Tetu does it talk (and pose) and Zenzi was already taken out with a single blow by T’challa early in the run. They’re jokes. Hell, Achebe was single-handedly more threatening than every single enemy that Coates has introduced thus far.
When you are making a critique that ends with a comparison to McDonalds, it is fair to expect the entire comic to be discussed. Or at least discuss the central, important aspects of the story – in this case, the themes. Especially when you are dismissing many characters while ignoring the thematic nature of their presence.
And I do think the Hawkeye thing is fair. In whatever Avengers book you read, Hawkeye will be making impossible shots and holding off armies. In a recent New Avengers, I believe he was at some point fighting off an army of SHIELD Agents single handedly, until Songbird turned up. Meanwhile, in his own book, he was struggling against some ordinary Russian thugs. It doesn’t matter that Hawkeye isn’t superhuman, the same thing is happening. Different tones define whether Hawkeye’s near-superman archery means ‘fight off an army of SHIELD’ or ‘can fight off a gang of Russian thugs, but it is a struggle’. If Hawkeye’s abilities can be depicted differently depending on the book, why can’t Black Panther’s (give me time, and I could come up with other examples. Haven’t been reading the current Avengers book, because the firs tissue was really bad, but I am sure I could say the same about the Vision).
I’m still confused with your problem with the Nanites. I only know what Shadow Physics is from a wiki, but it appears to be built around tracking vibranium and teleportation. Which would work, but ignores the fact that Doom’s nanites appear to have a wider range of abilities than just tracking – we have no idea if Coates wishes to use any of the other features yet, but considering the use of video already in this book (and the real world parallels that a focus on recording technology has), Doom’s nanites seem to be the better choice, both for the story and from T’Challa’s perspective. Mind telling me exactly what your problem is? Is it because T’Challa shows respect for Doom? I think that is fair, considering Doom is one of the great geniuses of the Marvel Universe. Is it because T’Challa uses Doom’s technology instead of his own? Surely that is good strategy, to use the best tool available for the job, regardless of source. And it is also good strategy to learn from your weaknesses in previous conflicts.
I also think you are understating what it means for T’Challa to bring in Manifold, strategically. The strategy of the rebellion T’Challa faces is asymmetric warfare. Asymmetric warfare works through a combination of tactics that generally work under the principle of being impossible to respond to easily. Surprise the enemy, hit them fast so they can’t respond, disappear before they do anything. Asymmetric warfare is a logistical nightmare, and T’Challa solved it in a single phone call. Completely changed the battlefield, removing every advantage that the rebels hand (and please note, Zeke Stane is highly talented at asymmetric warfare. It is kind of his thing). This isn’t Spiderman wrapping his fists in webbing. THis is a perfect counter.
With the Doras, just because they were respected, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a highly misogynist institution. The Dora Milaje are only allowed respect as long as they follow the patriarchal rules. They exist, in part, as wives-in-training, and regardless of how T’Challa treats them, that is what they are culturally. These are woman who are selected (seemingly without choice, from what I am reading) to their position, are to call the king ‘Beloved’ regardless of their feelings (or even sexuality) and, again, are supposed to exist in part to provide the king a pool to choose from his wives. And the respect they are afforded as Dora Milaje exists only if they go round, calling the king ‘Beloved’. If these women are the best of the best, surely they can be given respect without also being part of a cultural tradition that expects them to be a potential wife just because? I think it is fair to say it is sexist to expect these woman to have to call a man ‘Beloved’ simply because he is king, regardless of their personal feeling. If the Dora Milaje weren’t a sexist institution, surely the women could be elite bodyguards without the wife stuff, and simply be just ordinary employees of the king?
And with the villains, you are mistaking physical prowess with threat. Comics are full of villains who are massive threats despite being pretty easy to defeat in a fight. The Joker usually isn’t a physical threat, nor is Lex Luthor (except in the occasions he uses a power suit). Yeah, Zenzi can be taken out by a single blow. That isn’t why she and Tetu are a threat. They are threats because they ferment rebellion. They are a threat because they placed Wakanda in chaos. They are a threat, because Zenzi can reveal the populace’s anger and cause riots. They are dangerous, because Zenzi can cause T’Challa’s elite men to feel such sympathy for her cause, that they drop their weapons and beg forgiveness.
They are a threat because despite their lack of physical strength, they can exploit the weaknesses of a Wakanda weakened by Avengers v X-Men, Infinity, Doomwar and all the other recent attacks on Wakanda and turn T’Chala’s country against him.
They are a threat, because people talented in inflaming the emotions of those angry at the king are the exact thing that causes a rebellion. And Zenzi doesn’t need to be able to take a hit to be able to bring down Wakanda (and I like that she can’t, honestly, as I think it would be ill fitting and boring). Zenzi just needs to spend time with the people. And someone who can bring down a government just by spending time with the people is a major threat.
My problem with the McDonalds metaphor is that McDonalds is the Lowest Common Denominator. It is utter junk. I think calling McDonalds mediocre is generous, but more importantly, McDonalds is designed to be mediocre. It is designed to be cheap and easy. And for all of Coates’ problems, it isn’t Lowest Common Denominator.
I have described the book a couple of times in this page as ‘less than the sum of its parts’, and I think that is fair. That all the components are good, they just come together to create something bad. And I think a comparison that fits that is a much fairer comparison than any that suggest that Ta-Nehisi Coates is producing ‘junk food’
I actually liked this issue. T’Challa’s empathy with the revolutionaries at the start provided the first fresh take on Coates’ ‘Heavy is the crown’ characterisation of Black Panther. T’Challa as a guy who by virtue of divine right cannot be on the side of those he has empathy for is fascinating. As is the later moment where he discusses that the true T’Challa is a scientist – the idea that T’Challa is essentially forced by God to not be himself is an interesting one. And you could possibly spin some good meta discussions out of the fact that ultimately, the nature of Marvel means that regardless of Coates’ well articulated arguments about the failure of a monarchy, that is what the Black Panther franchise/Wakanda must be.
The Midnight Angels building their own revolution, and the beginning of their alliance with Tetu and Zenzi. The Angels wrestling with their morality, as well as the worrying sign that this alliance has made the choice not to think beyond ‘A World with No Kings’.
Tony Stark disrupting the Hickminian language with his quippery, complete with quite insightful discussions on a villain who was introduced as a guy trying to be the exact opposite, is great. It gave T’Challa a moment to remove his mask, slightly, which was appreciated. It also acted as a decent payoff to the nanites – I wonder if Drew missed that the nanites were used before, but kept as a mystery. Coates’ set up the Chekov’s Gun last issue, and this issue, just when it goes off, reveals it to be a repurposed weapon of Doom, which is actually a decent character moment.
The parable, complete with the ending, is beautiful. There is a lot you can say about how Coates’ Black Panther is influenced by his experience in journalism (and often for the worse), and honestly, part of the reason the parable works so well is because of that. He may struggle with writing a complex story, but from all of his essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates knows exactly how to use a well placed parable to inform the greater whole. And because Ta-Nehisi Coates is so familiar with this form of storytelling, for once writer and artist are in perfect sync. And since he knows exactly how to tell an exemplar story that informs the greater whole, the art is the perfect complement. And it is a great story with the perfect payoff as the Djalia jumping off the cliff.
And then as a finale, we have a great example of a perfect plan. A simple one, but the combination of T’Challa out thinking Zeke and the satisfying punch in the air reveal of the Crew is great. And combine that with even more of T’Challa defining himself as someone who isn’t a king.
Honestly, my biggest problem is what Ryan actually praised, which was Sprouse’s depiction of the attack. I don’t know what the script looked like, but the reveal of the second wave of War Dogs in bungled. The War Dogs parachuting in don’t feel sufficiently distinct from the first wave to be an escalation. It honestly feels like ‘War Dogs attack, get thrashed. Send second wave, win’. Not good storytelling. DOn’t know if that is Coates’ fault, but it really feels like a place Sprouse should have stood up and said ‘as the expert on visuals, the storytelling would be better if the second wave felt like a distinctly different threat’. Comics is a partnership.
THough even if he did that, I feel he also messed up Tetu and Zanzi’s rescue. Scriptwise, it works. One panel showing that something is up. Turn the page for the reveal reveal. But the final panel before you turn the page feels odd, and it doesn’t naturally shift towards them kneeling in shame. It feels wrong, and Sprouse should have emphasised the changing feelings, not the psychic assault.
Things are still rough, but this actually feels like we are finally getting the book that Coates has been building to. The comparison with Hickman is great, in that both writers have refused to deliver early. But here, it looks like Coates in finally delivering. We are getting plans, we are getting payoffs (just the nanites at the moment, but that’s the first), we get punch the air moments and we get a shift to a Black Panther who now struggles with the fact his divine position is at odds with his nature, instead of ‘heavy is the crown’. A frustrating book that looks like it is turning around. I’m happy
I did miss that the nanites were used before, and looking back at the previous issues, I’m still missing when it is that they were used. What was the mystery?
I can see the Doom reveal working if you take a scope of their relationship larger than this series, but since I’m relatively new to this character, I would have much preferred the significance be explored more thoroughly here. As it’s presented here, I can guess at that significance, but I certainly don’t feel it. Is Doom his greatest enemy? A friend-turned-foe? Is his technology regularly superior to Wakanda’s? Has T’Challa been in a situation where the nanites might have been useful before, but he opted not to because of the emotional baggage? Are the nanites associated with a particularly traumatizing attack that might give T’Challa Batman-like aversion to this particular weapon?
The nanites might as well have been a gift from an ex-girlfriend we’ll never meet for all of the information we get about this relationship. It feels very one-dimensional, leaning on a relationship that can be hardly said to exist within this narrative for some stakes that ultimately don’t really belong within this narrative, either.
The nanites were used in “Doom War”, which was written by Johnathan Maberry and was touted as “a story that Black Panther Fans will love”. But in reality was just a vehicle to stealth prop up Dr. Doom at Wakanda’s expense. By taking the mythos and Wakanda out to the woodshed and shooting it/stomping on it. It is a similar example of how Coates is ultimately weak when it comes to execution after an attempt to build something up.
In the end, Doom War fell flat because after all the turmoil Doom brought to Wakanda, the “victory” that T’challa had was just a weak pyrrhic one. One that let Doom off with a slap on the wrist, and just came across as a really offensive and condescending “White Man’s Burden” trope in the end. Because he was an outsider who had to come in to a secret isolated nation and “teach Wakanda about their own 10,000 year culture”.
To which Maberry blamed the readers for “not getting what he was trying to do”, whenever complaints were brought to him over his lackluster ending.
The prisoner that T’Challa captured was injected with the nanites and released. That is why T’Challa knew where to go this issue. He then injected himself with nanites so that when he got captured, the same nanites could communicate where Zeke specifically was (instead of one of Zeke’s bases).
I haven’t read Doomwar, and can’t say anything about how it connects to that story specifically. But I think Coates does make it significant. T’Challa has taken a weakness that a previous antagonist has exploited, and turned it into a strength. Which is a great fit for a story all about the weaknesses of Wakanda. The big idea of this story is that Wakanda is full of flaws and needs to be addressed. Here, T’Challa shows, metaphorically, the ability to do so. Coates has many flaws, but I think his ability to do symbolism is strong. Everything this story needs is there. The big problem with Coates is that unfortunately, his execution means that the sum of its parts is lesser than all the parts together.
And honestly, for all Coates’ flaws as a writer of comics (and he has many flaws), I think he is being poorly served by his artists. Sprouse should be doing a better job highlighting T’Challa using the nanites, or the computer screen. Coates’ execution is certainly something he needs to work on, but the artists are doing a good job at making it much harder than it should be
I suppose, in the absence of an explanation, I didn’t really think of it as a mystery. Tracking devices are used so often in superhero stories, it doesn’t really warrant further explanation. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what T’Challa is using the nanites for that couldn’t have been accomplished with a tracking device and camera in his mask.
Special Doom Nanites is a bit overexplained as tracking devices go. But that is the payoff to the ‘What is T’Challa injecting into the prisoner?’ mystery
The value of it being the nanites, as opposed to just saying tracking devises, is to explore T’Challa as a scientist and the symbolism of T’Challa turning what was once a weapon used him into a strength of Wakanda (which I assume is also what T’Challa is going to do about the revolution’s righteous ideals).
It goes into what I said that unfortunately, Coates’ story is less than the sum of its part. Everything is there, just executed badly. This is what happens when you hire a genius, but one whose works in a completely different format. He knows the value of everything from his amazing essays. But not how to mix those features together to create a story